Seanad debates

Thursday, 17 November 2005

11:00 am

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, back to the House. There has been a unanimous condemnation of all that was revealed in the Ferns Report. The question now, however, is "where do we go from here?" I thought the speech in the Lower House by Deputy O'Donnell was over the top. For a Dubliner — and someone, I am told, is a northsider, close to the Minister of State's own constituency, near the Phoenix Park — she displayed a lack of knowledge of recent history, as well as theposition of All Hallows and Archbishop's House.

The special position of the Catholic Church was formally written out of the Constitution in a referendum in 1971, so Deputy O'Donnell was a bit wide of the mark. I do not think there has been any special church-State relationship since then, although I do not know what it was like even then. I was not conscious of it. Deputy O'Donnell told the Dáil: "The track record is such that we cannot accept that the church will be truthful or capable of self-regulation." Self-regulation has now gone for all professions, but it is a bit strong to say that the church would not be truthful. I would not accept that and I feel the comment was over the top.

Deputy O'Donnell implied that the special position has gone on for too long, almost as if it still existed, but that is not true. As someone said in the earlier debate, although in a slightly different context, if anything, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Instead of politicians getting a belt of a crozier, politicians are bishop bashing.

Liam Fitzgerald (Fianna Fail)
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Exactly.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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There have been some instances of that in recent years and there was one notable one in my own party. In fairness, Deputy O'Donnell apologised for her over the top remarks. She wronged the Taoiseach by her silly reference to All Hallows.

The church's role in education must be put in context. We would not have our current education system were it not for the number of national schools that are effectively church controlled. The system would not have been as good as it is, nor would it have been possible to provide it, without the church's input.

During the previous debate, Senator Maurice Hayes referred to the role of the De la Salle Brothers. I was also a student at a De la Salle school for years and I never witnessed a single instance of abuse, nor was there any talk of it. I do not believe that any abuse took place there or in the other schools I attended, including St. Brendan's in Killarney. I never came across or heard a reference to a single instance of abuse.

I accept the arrangements the Government has put in place concerning the Dublin archdiocese, but we do not need to go digging holes all over the country. I think that is also the Minister of State's view. We can be satisfied with the procedures that have been established.

The Ferns Report states:

The Inquiry believes that the appointment as Chairman of the Board of Management of national schools... should be made with utmost care and diligence. As will be obvious from the allegations set out in this Report, some priests appear to have abused their position as Managers of national schools in order to access children.

Now that new procedures are in place that cannot happen again, so we can be satisfied that it has been overcome.

The report recommended that consideration be given immediately to the creation of a new criminal offence to apply where persons fail to take action to protect a child from abuse. I wholeheartedly endorse the use of soft information in our child protection procedures, which is also supported by the inquiry through the interagency review committee.

We all accept that overall responsibility for child protection lies with the State, and that no one organisation or group is above the law in this matter. This report must prompt a unified response from the Government with action needed from the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Health and Children, and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. All three Departments have a clear and vital role in the protection of children, young people and vulnerable people of any age.

The Minister of State accepted those points in his address on the previous occasion. We are all in step in agreeing on those points. Once we are satisfied with the audit, we do not need to dig holes all over the place.

Liam Fitzgerald (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State and compliment him on the time he has given to this debate both here and in the Lower House. I note that he has attended this House since the debate began. I agree with a number of matters raised by my Opposition colleagues. This is not the first time references have been made in a report to child sex abuse by members of the clergy. We have already seen the report on residential institutions in which some extremely unsavoury references appeared. There is a difference in this case, however, in so far as the Ferns Inquiry will be acknowledged as a watershed. It is the catalyst that shattered the hitherto unmentionable taboo of paedophilia. In the past, people adopted a hush-hush approach and did not want to accept there was such a thing, let alone talk about it. That is why the Ferns Report marks a watershed in changing attitudes both in rural and urban areas, whereby people are facing up to the reality of paedophilia. Not alone is the subject being discussed, but action is also being demanded because people realise paedophilia may be part of a behaviour pattern of some individuals, albeit an unacceptable one.

The report confronts the last remnants of complacency in our society regarding this heinous crime. There was a great deal of complacency and denial based on a refusal to accept this was happening. There was a veil of secrecy over it for years. As a society we have no choice but to confront this evil crime. The report marks the beginning of a new maturity in relations between church and State.

I am horrified at the nature of the findings in the report on clerical child sex abuse in Ferns. Even allowing for the social structures of those decades, it is difficult to understand why there was such an inadequate response, in some cases no response. In other cases there was outright denial and alleged destruction of evidence by the church and health authorities, and the Garda Síochána.

I sympathise with the victims of the abuse and hope they will find healing as a result of this inquiry and the Government decision to refer the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was imperative that it be immediately referred to the DPP and I support that action. The Government's swiftness in that regard will be asignificant part of the healing process for the victims.

I sympathise too with the thousands of priests, brothers and nuns throughout the country who have led exemplary lives and are shocked and horrified at the revelations in the report. I make no apology for saying this. I know many priests, nuns and brothers who have made a significant contribution to this State, in the education of this and previous generations. Some people hammered the Taoiseach for saying that without them we could not have afforded the education. Not alone is that true but in my case, living in a fairly isolated rural region, and for many others, it would have been extremely difficult to avail of second level education. There were two religious orders located in my small rural community in the foothills of a mountain.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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That is absolutely true.

Liam Fitzgerald (Fianna Fail)
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They brought education to us and to many similar communities. We owe them a debt of gratitude, irrespective of the terrible, inexcusable, heinous crimes committed by some of their colleagues. It is hard to accept that balance, fair-mindedness and a sense of proportion and context do not prevail in much of the public debate on this crime. It is all too easy to go over the top and incriminate everybody for the sins of the few.

One priest abusing a child is one too many. To judge, however, by some of the anti-Catholic invective since the publication of the Ferns Report one would conclude that every priest, and in some cases, every Catholic, was a paedophile. The facts provided by the authorities speak for themselves. The central one being that the Catholic and other clergy are responsible for only a fraction of the abuse, less than 4%.

In using that statistic I am not trying to diminish the horror of what the priests in Ferns or any other diocese are alleged to have done but to maintain a sense of balance and proportion. We must keep these events in context. Most paedophiles are male relatives, stepfathers, teachers, carers, sports coaches and perhaps scout leaders. As a member of the scout movement I have known a couple of leaders who came under suspicion, although I have the utmost admiration for the scout movement and will always support it. If we tar all priests with the brush some journalists want to use because of the sins of the 21 priests in Ferns, and those in other dioceses, logic dictates that we do the same for all other categories of people in positions of trust with children. I am calling for a sense of balance and perspective in this debate.

Before I give the wrong impression, let me stress that we must ensure any member of the clergy who is a paedophile is subject to the full rigours of the law. There must be no hiding place for them, no more than for any paedophile in any position of trust. Nobody should get away with such a heinous crime. We must also ensure that as we go after the 4% of clerical paedophiles we pursue the other 96% or more lay paedophiles with equal vigour.

This report achieves a great deal but especially it brings this heinous crime into the full glare of public scrutiny in a way that previous reports did not. The welfare of our children and the victims makes it imperative that everybody in authority and every member of the public has a duty to report such a crime. While I do not have legal training, as the Minister of State does, I have strong views on mandatory reporting. There are forceful legal arguments against this, which I could not take on, but considering the situation in the round, if we are to confront this evil once and for all, thoroughly and effectively, we must choose mandatory reporting. I look forward to the comments of the Minister of State on this proposal.

Another issue arising from this debate is the conflict between civil law and Canon Law. We must all agree that Canon Law can and must never be invoked to protect clerical paedophiles from civil law. Some people have recently fudged this issue. There can be no fudge on this matter. I was heartened recently to read an article by Dr. Michael Mullaney a lecturer in Canon Law at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth. He was also one of the advisers on Canon Law to the inquiry. He wrote that he wished:

categorically to dispel some of the myths . . . regarding the relationship between canon law and civil law with respect to paedophilia.

Firstly, no priest, religious or bishop as a citizen of the State is exempt from civil law, much less the civil law that pertains to the crime of paedophilia.

That helps to clear up this issue, coming as it does from a man of good standing and prominent legal background, a man whom the State saw as appropriate to call in to be one of the Canon Law advisers to the Ferns inquiry.

Dr. Mullaney goes on to say that those clerics who commit such crimes must face the penalties imposed by the State for such offences. He points out that Canon Law does not claim precedence over the civil law, nor does it prohibit reporting sexual abuse where the civil law requires it. There is great clarity in the statement and presentation of the legal side of Canon Law from Dr.Mullaney. It is categoric and definitive, I am prepared to accept it and I look forward to the views of other people of equivalent legal standing, whether those views are to the contrary or reinforce those of Dr. Mullaney.

Turning again to the victims and their families, one of the most horrible aspects of this crime is that it was so secretive and private. It was carried out in secret, private places and involved hideous actions by adults, manipulating young innocent children, robbing them of their innocence and potentially destroying a child's life. Children were also manipulated on the basis on the inevitable guilt feelings they would have about what was done to them.

It is hard for us to imagine what those young, innocent children must have gone through during that horrible experience, what they went through subsequently and what their fathers, mothers and other family members went through because in the culture of that time one did not talk about such matters. They have had to deal with those taboos and face terrible traumas and ghosts. We know this has resulted in suicide in certain cases, and in other cases in emigration, with a decision never to return to Ireland. It resulted in people living their lives almost in privacy, concerned that their neighbours were constantly talking about them. I have spoken to some people in the Ferns diocese whose neighbours have told them they feel like that.

Overall, I am reassured that safeguards have been put in place. I am also reassured by the determination of the Minister and the Government, on the basis of the national audit, to have those safeguards monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure they are adequate, and that in the archdiocese of Dublin no priest against whom serious allegations have been made will be allowed continue in ministry; or if allowed do so, the Government will see to it that it can move the commission of inquiry into the relevant parish or diocese. This particularly refers to the archdiocese of Dublin, where any priest against whom serious allegations have been made should not be allowed continue in ministry.

It is also reassuring that one of the key recommendations by Mr. Justice Francis D. Murphy is that the High Court should have the power to issue an order against a person who is deemed to be a risk to children and prevent that person from having anything to do with children in an employment or recreational capacity.

What Dr. Willie Walsh said is true. He acknowledged publicly that it will take quite a while for the wounds of this horrible period in our recent history to heal. Last week the Archbishop of Dublin said he now hopes for a mature relationship between church and State. Regarding the Government decision to investigate the Dublin archdiocese and conduct a national audit, I compliment the Minister of State for the forceful way in which he came forward to articulate what he is determined to do in that regard with full Government support. These are welcome signs of a new maturity by both church and State with regard to this hideous crime.

12:00 pm

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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For any citizen of this State, this is in many ways perhaps the most distasteful debate the Oireachtas has ever had to deal with. I remember the shock in this House at the first appearances of the X case, but however, awful, sad, tragic and anger-creating that was, it was a unique, once-off situation. The Ferns situation can not be something unique to one small part of Ireland despite all of us wishing it was not a widely replicated experience around the country. The situation is an enormous tragedy of neglect by institutions in which this State, rightly or wrongly, put its faith. Indeed the State had little choice because those institutions demanded that faith and that this role be entrusted to them. In this respect terms like "parental choice" and so on are very much a new language. Before the foundation of the State it was demanded and granted that the national school system be under what the Church would like us to believe was the service of the Roman Catholic Church, but was not.

This is a huge tragedy of violence against the most innocent in society. It is a huge tragedy of deceit — I use the word deliberately — by people who set themselves up as moral leaders and expected to be given credibility as such, and who got involved at the very least in disingenuous arguments. I remember a very eminent member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy telling us that because Father Brendan Smith was a member of a religious order, it was very difficult for any of the bishops to deal with him. If Father Smith had been marching around the country preaching the joys of contraception, he would have been dealt with very quickly by the same bishops who tried to explain to us, after the event, that there was nothing much they could about him abusing children. I find such disingenuous attitudes very difficult to accept in politics or elsewhere, though we all acknowledge our limitations, our humanity and our frailties and we are all liable to lose our jobs because of how we perform.

As I said before, and recently in another venue, when one gets into a position where one is accountable only to God, and to nobody else, that opens the door to megalomania unless one is a saint — and putting it mildly, not all bishops are saints. I am slow to canonise anyone. Most of us have profoundly fragile feet of clay.

The scale of institutional interest being put ahead of the terrible suffering of children is extraordinary, as is the distortion involved. What troubles me currently is the succession of little things which suggest we are now in the process of putting the scale of what happened behind us. To put it mildly, I was disappointed when the Taoiseach's words to describe his reaction were that we were all, as he put it, "disappointed". We were a lot more than disappointed. We were extremely angry and horrified. When the Taoiseach was responding to Deputy O'Donnell, I wish he had used a stronger word than "disappointed". There is much more than disappointment involved. I am disappointed when Kildare has not won an All-Ireland title for 65 or 75 years or whatever period it is. I am very angry when the church to which I give my allegiance turns out to have behaved in a way that no politician would ever have got away with, been forgiven or excused for.

Let us remember the fiery coals heaped on a former leader of Fine Gael for his statement, following legal advice, on the issue of hepatitis C. We should compare the language used then with the benevolent attempts to explain away the present circumstances. Last May, the current leader of the Catholic Church said in discussions with Polish bishops that the declining profile of the church in Ireland was partly due to perceptions of clerical sexual abuse. That was under 18 months ago, yet perceptions rather than the facts of neglect were being discussed.

Celibacy has been eulogised in today's newspapers. While I do not have an issue with this lifestyle, it is important to note Mr. Justice Murphy's finding in the Ferns Report that each of the experts he consulted believed celibacy was a contributory factor to the matter. I do not want to take part in that debate but to pretend or ignore it represents an attempt to move on.

At present attempts are being made to rewrite the significance of the guidelines on Canon Law. The late and wonderful John Kelly wrote what most lawyers regard as the authoritative guide to the Constitution. If a Supreme Court judge announces next week that the book's interpretations are incorrect, the majority of lawyers who rely on it will not claim they do not grasp the significance. The guidelines relied on by priests and bishops gave incorrect advice on dealing with child sex abuse, advice which involved reducing the risk of civil society becoming aware of the church's role. It is not entirely honest to declare in the current embarrassing circumstances that it was an insignificant book. It was essentially the only book people relied on to explain Canon Law.

An eminent professor of moral theology, who was once a colleague of mine, argued in an edition of The Irish Times last week that the post-Vatican II dilution of clear roles of authority played a role in this matter. We even have the 3% issue. While I accept that the vast majority of clergy are good people, the people in question were given higher moral authority and the right to tell us how to live, based on their sacramental ordination and the quality of their lives. They claimed to be holier than others, albeit using humble words. It is not simply a question of 3%, which, if true, implies there are approximately 700 paedophiles in Ferns alone. I am sceptical as to whether the problem is that significant. I believe that evidence will indicate a disproportionate incidence of paedophilia among the ranks of the clergy, although many are fantastic people. We cannot allow the horror of what was reported to be diluted by the careful use of words.

The fundamental problem in terms of what happened in the Ferns diocese is that a large institution had the power to control education and health care. It still has that power. Today, I read in a newspaper that bishops are about to insist on the right of Catholic parents to send their children to Catholic schools. Nobody in politics, even those in the most extreme left-wing parties, wishes to deny people the right to choose. However, the official position of the Roman Catholic hierarchy is that a school is not Catholic unless a bishop is the boss. The parents of one gaelscoil voted to have a Catholic ethos while also being under the patronage of Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lánghaeilge. However, the Catholic hierarchy told them a bishop had to be in charge if the school was to be Catholic. This issue concerns episcopal control rather than parental choice. The role of the church in education needs to be debated, although not with the over the top language used last week, because we have not yet reached an honest agreement on that role.

The efforts made by religious orders 150 years ago to educate people who were abandoned by state and society were heroic but, while these orders are withdrawing from education, they continue to teach in prestigious fee-paying schools. They have not given to lay boards the control of Gonzaga, Belvedere or Clongowes Wood.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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They have.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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They have lay boards but they have not changed their ethos. They are still Jesuit or Holy Ghost schools. However, they have pulled out of middle of the road secondary schools in country towns and no longer influence these. The same situation arises with regard to health. The hospitals which were established to serve the poor have become instruments for the preaching of particular views. We saw a recent example of this in the ethical conflicts in certain major hospitals.

The role of the State is to demand that issues are addressed. I do not have a simple prescriptive solution to this problem. While parents have the right to send their children to schools with the ethos they prefer, limits must exist to that choice. It is appropriate for the State to take an interest in the curricula of Muslim and Catholic schools and it has the right to refuse to exempt clergy from being fully accountable to civil law. Such a situation does not yet obtain. Take, for instance, the cloak and dagger relations among schools' boards of management, where it is pretended that significant parental responsibility is involved but where bishops continue to place people in the majority of positions. They are only accountable to the bishop concerned.

Last year, the current Pope issued a letter on women in society, which began with the phrase "The church, expert in humanity...". Each bishop in Ireland should acknowledge he is not an expert in humanity if this issue is to be confronted. Like the rest of us, they can only learn from experience.

The framework document which is supposed to guide bishops in addressing these issues was submitted to Rome in 1996. A decision in that city is required to give that document the force of Canon Law in Ireland but, almost ten years on, it has not yet been given that force and continues to be entirely voluntary. That raises a fundamental question about whether they really accept the gravity of what has happened and the need for fundamental change. If the Roman Catholic Church authorities do not give that document the full force of Canon Law it is our duty to give it the full force of civil law.

Photo of John Gerard HanafinJohn Gerard Hanafin (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to the House. The bishops have rightly called what happened at Ferns an horrific litany of abuse. That is exactly what it is. Much of the conduct was simply indefensible. It raises questions about betrayal. Children, those who were abused and the church itself, including those who put their trust in it, were all betrayed because the church is clearly and damningly against anything that would harm innocence in any small way, not to mind such a vicious way.

It is no harm to consider how we look at different groups in society who are in positions of trust. The law recognises there are a number of professions that have particular access to people's personal lives, such as doctors, lawyers and clergy. Having that personal access is a privilege. For doctors and solicitors there is regulation, and there is Canon Law in the church, but there is also the law of the land. It should be the case that those clergy who have abused, albeit a small number, and which was horrific in terms of their responsibility and the privileged position they held, should be subject to the full rigour of Irish law and Canon Law. I would like to see a strengthening of the law to ensure that those who hold a position of trust and who are in this privileged position bear more responsibility and have more responsibility under the law.

I wonder where clericalism and anti-clericalism comes into this. Of the 12 apostles who stood with Jesus, one betrayed Him, another denied Him, another doubted Him and every single one of them ran away. Why do we expect men and women with feet of clay, like the rest of us, to take on a standard they could not have by virtue of their humanity? Everybody can sin. Unfortunately we have got into a position where we doubted whether this could happen. It has happened and we must deal with it very severely.

The Ferns Report is very disturbing. It is almost as if those who were in authority were, like a family, hiding a dark secret. It was unacceptable and it is still unacceptable. The future, our church and our children must be taken on board by the church. As legislators we have a duty to ensure we never again allow a situation where a presumption is made, because everybody should be held accountable and should be seen to be accountable, with those in a position of authority even more so. We will have to take that on board. That is our responsibility having seen the Ferns Report.

The report makes disturbing reading going back over 40 years. It is a severe criticism of diocesan authorities and individuals in Ferns. It is scandalous that so many suffered horrendous abuse from people in positions of trust. Victims were deeply scarred by the abuse and when they sought help they were not believed or suitable action was not taken. We have a profound responsibility to do our best to ensure this never happens again. In 1996, the church, locally and nationally, implemented new procedures for dealing with accusations of child sex abuse among its clergy. We have to see if the position has improved since then.

Data on the incidence of child sexual abuse is vague and imprecise, being based on random sample surveys. I am not convinced as yet that there is a higher percentage of child sex abuse among the clergy than among the population at large but figures may show otherwise. Even if the incidence is as low as 3% it is a chilling thought that those figures could be accurate. How to deal with it is problematic as, for one reason or another, only a minute fraction in respect of civil society seems to come to the attention of the Garda or the courts and much of it is not prosecutable due to lack of evidence and the passage of time.

Another chilling thought is how widespread is this evil in today's world. The destruction of innocence and the exploitation of children is one of the most horrific crimes imaginable, yet it affects most societies in the modern world. Child pornography is rampant on the Internet and so is child prostitution in many parts of the world. In the 1990s there were well publicised cases in Belgium involving members of the Government. In Holland, in 1990, legislation was passed making it legal for a child of 12 to have consensual sex with an adult. That law was rightly denounced here.

What has happened in Ferns is a truly horrendous and regrettable fact. Some bishops who had been assured by professionals that paedophilia could be treated sent priests away for treatment and reassigned them when pronounced cured, only to find they were not cured and reoffended again. I believe, in the future, that this knowledge and failure to act on it will be seen and taken by the courts as criminal negligence. There was negligence and mistakes were made by bishops, health authorities and the Garda.

At the heart of this issue rests the dignity and value of every human being. Everyone is entitled to be protected from the horrors of physical and sexual abuse by virtue of their humanity and inherent worth as an individual. To fail to recognise this and, in some instances, to turn a blind eye to the extent and severity of the suffering and pain involved is inexcusable. Let us hope we all learn from what has happened and that it will never be allowed to happen again.

Much of the anger raised in the media concerning the failure of church and State authorities to protect children from abuse is justified. Publication of the Ferns Report will in the long run do the Catholic Church a great service, hopefully leading to a purification and a more authentic witness for the future. The church has a monumental task going forward to reach out to the victims of abuse in a truly penitential and considerate way to commence the long process of healing. It is a long process because the taking of innocence is akin to the taking of a life. The victim of abuse must be of primary concern. The church, in the years to come, will be judged not on how many public statements it issued on the matter but on whether victims sincerely feel it and its members are truly remorseful for what happened through word and deed.

Many priests, nuns and members of the laity are also suffering hugely at present out of a sense of shame. I feel for those good people. Perhaps it is a time to remind ourselves of the amount of good, the Christian caring, the charity and the justice with which many clergy work and for which respect was given to all clergy. We should also remind ourselves of the sense of betrayal those good people must feel. The vast majority of people working for and serving the church do so in an exemplary manner under extremely difficult and often thankless circumstances.

We must also be mindful of the many elderly priests and religious who have devoted their entire lives to the message of the gospel and feel a deep sense of betrayal in their twilight years. We cannot allow ourselves to become so hardened as a society that we fail to also acknowledge this deep and lasting hurt. If we are sincere about ensuring that such abuse never happens again we must focus on ensuring that best practice is fully implemented to protect all our children in future. While it is a time to face facts, it is not a time to opportunistically make a scapegoat of the church in pursuit of other political and personal agendas. Some people have tried to make a scapegoat of the church, which was also betrayed by this action. The victims of abuse deserve better than this. While sensationalism may help to sell newspapers, it does nothing to bring about realistic solutions to extremely important societal problems. Just like the clergy and the church, each of us will be judged on how we react to this tragedy.

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Fine Gael)
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I have been very impressed by this debate in the House over the past two weeks. I am also impressed that the Minister of State has taken the time to be present throughout the debate for which I thank him. Following publication of the report, some excellent contributions have been made. Before discussing the church, I wish to say that the State has an obligation to apologise, as the Taoiseach did when the scale of the problem first emerged. This is not just an issue for the church. It is an issue of failure on the part of the State and its agencies including the Department of Education and Science, the Garda, the health boards and the Oireachtas over many years to open our eyes to the scale of child sexual abuse in this country. We in the Oireachtas have a responsibility to apologise to the victims and use this opportunity to restate that.

It is very important that the inquiry undertaken by Mr. Justice Murphy and his team in the past two years put in place a structure whereby people wanting to keep their anonymity could choose to tell their stories. We should not forget that many victims who were traumatised 30 or 40 years ago are now fathers and mothers, and have their own lives. However difficult it has been for them, they have moved on. The report was structured in such a way that stories could be told anonymously without people compromising their families. We need to respect that people have moved on. The scale of this problem goes back to the 1960s.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Colm O'Gorman, who through the programme, "Suing the Pope", had the courage to come forward as a representative of victims, and to the One in Four group. We also owe a debt of gratitude to Marie Collins from Firhouse. I know her very well and she is one of the most articulate and compassionate people I have come across despite the horrendous experience she had in Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, some years ago. We are blessed to have people with the courage to stand up so that politicians and everyone else could take a position on the matter. I understand that the One in Four group has seen a substantial increase in visitors to its website and in those seeking counselling services following publication of the report. Our first responsibility must be to ensure it has adequate financial resources to deal with people who come forward looking for help with psychotherapy etc.

The House should put on record its debt of gratitude to Bishop Eamonn Walsh who since his appointment as apostolic administrator to the diocese of Ferns has dealt with the issue in an exemplary way. In his pronouncements one can feel the genuine humility and sorrow of ordinary Catholics throughout the country. As Senator Hanafin said, the key issue is to set out exactly how we as a Legislature will deal with this issue in the future to ensure that first and foremost we create an environment where children can come forward and their views will be taken with a degree of importance that was not previously the case. The most important recommendation of the report was that cultural change must come about so that children's views are taken seriously. We must also set out a very clear radical programme of reform of our legislation and reform of best practice in the various State agencies and Departments that deal with the issue, a matter to which I will return shortly.

I agree with Senator Hanafin that it is not the time for anyone to engage in opportunistic debate. It does nothing for any of the victims of child sexual abuse in Ferns or any other part of the country for some politicians to feel they have a free rein to bring us back to a debate that took place in 1980s, most of which was not very useful. People will see through that kind of nonsense which does nothing for the victims. As a Legislature, we must on a cross-party basis deal with the issues and not deal with a debate that took place 25 years ago. People love to hark back on that debate because they get enormous publicity as a result. It is not fair to the importance of the report and to the story of victims that people should act in such a way as they did in the other place. This does nothing to advance the cause of child protection and the public can see through it.

We must deal with this issue over a period and through a number of Departments. I would like the Minister of State to outline how we will implement the recommendations. I understand that health care workers need legislative power to intervene. We have come across many cases in the past where a degree of publicity follows an intervention and people question the right of the health board, now the HSE, to intervene. We need to err on the side of the child and to use the legislation not as a stick to beat parents but as a precautionary device to help children.

The Garda has a particular role and responsibility here. The Garda is not attuned to this problem and its prevalence in society. The Garda will need to acquire expertise particularly through recruitment and training. At an operational level it needs to attune the force to the scale of the problem and get the kind of professional help from the outside to allow it to deal with such cases. The report outlines the scandalous way complaints were handled by some members of the force in the Ferns diocese.

We need to consider mandatory reporting. Up to now I took the position of the Minister of State in that I was not in favour of the introduction of mandatory reporting. Having read the report I have reconsidered the issue. We had a debate on the matter approximately 18 months ago and we need a further debate. The issue needs to be reconsidered to see whether it can be used as another defence for the protection and safety of children.

Two weeks ago we discussed the Stay Safe programme in the House. I understand that not every school offers this programme, which is an issue. It is basic common sense that children at a relatively young age would be informed of what is and is not appropriate behaviour. Much of this comes at home from fathers and mothers. However, sometimes that level of knowledge is best imparted in a classroom setting when children are with their peers. In discussions with the Department of Education and Science, the Minister of State should try to push this programme through, as it is very important. While parents have the right to remove their children from such classes, I question whether they do so. I question it because peers have a much greater influence in terms of the imparting of knowledge than any knowledge that can be honed at home. I urge the Government to examine this issue again.

The Fine Gael Party has considered the issue of the register of persons. When will the Government legislate for this? We must ensure we have a secure list in place of the names of people unfit to work with children.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Is the list of persons to which the Senator refers a North-South list?

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Fine Gael)
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Yes. I support the offence of reckless endangerment which has been outlined and prioritised in the report. We need legislation in that area.

As a lay member of the Catholic Church I would like to touch on issues affecting the church. Senator Hanafin said that while the church must respond in a legal and public way, it must also respond in a penitential way. In any of the responses I have heard from the bishops or senior members of the Catholic clergy since the publication of the report, I have not heard the church respond spiritually to the issues raised. If one is a Catholic, the question of seeking forgiveness is an important aspect of the faith. However, it is not enough to ask for forgiveness. One must also, through actions and observance, show one is serious about it and do penance.

I suggest the church needs to do more than simply ask for forgiveness from victims. For example the 28th December, the feast of the Holy Innocents, would seem to be the perfect opportunity for the Catholic Church to fast en masse. Fasting is an historic way in which the church seeks forgiveness, personal and collective. I urge the clergy to consider doing more than just expressing, albeit in a heartfelt manner, sorrow for the circumstances that arose in Ferns and other dioceses. It should do something more and respond in a spiritual way to this catastrophe that has affected the church and society at large. A public penitential request on a day of significance to children, might be a way for the church to get this view across.

The church must reconsider the issues of celibacy and a married clergy. I wonder whether the abuse would have occurred if priests were married and had children and worked with them or whether, in circumstances where they understood the appropriateness of certain behaviour, all of this would have emerged. The House is well aware that St. Patrick's father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest. If married clergy were good enough for St. Patrick in the fifth century, I do not know why the issue of celibacy causes such difficulty to Catholic clergy today or why it cannot be addressed. Formation for the priesthood is an important issue. It is unnatural that men should commit themselves to a life of celibacy and a life where they do not have a close family connection in the same way as others. Many of the problems we are discussing relate to the formation of priests over the past 30 or 40 years and to the lifestyle they lead. I urge the Catholic church to have another look at this issue.

It is important in this debate to recognise the scale of abuse of children in the country. The majority of abuse is domestic, but that should not in any way cause us to underestimate the scale of the problem in the church, where it is systemic and must be addressed. The one positive from this report must be that we create a new environment and culture in which the position of children in society and how the State deals with children will be completely transformed. If that can be achieved by the publication of this report and the putting in place of the recommendations, it will give some measure of comfort to the victims who have so bravely and openly highlighted this dark secret of the State and the church within it.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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This has been a long debate. I was very interested in Senator Brian Hayes's excellent contribution to which I would make just one correction or addition. It struck me when he was discussing the morality of forgiveness that one of the most shocking aspects of this report is that the concept of reparation does not seem to be part of the concept of repentance and forgiveness. I always understood that one was not forgiven until one had made reparation to the victim of the wrong. Grave wrongs were committed, yet there seems to be a complete mental incapacity on the part of those with institutional command in the church to realise that reparation is a fundamental aspect of repentance. I note the report stated that many of the cases were handled through spiritual remedy. True spiritual remedy requires reparation to the victim. It is not enough to be sorry and to promise to make amends in the future. One must undo, so far as is in one's power, the damage the victim may have suffered. For me, the lack of a concept of reparation is another shocking element of the report and that is why I pick up on the Senator's excellent contribution.

Senator Ryan mentioned the Taoiseach's comments last week. Those comments were made in a particular context. I made it very clear at the launch of this report and in this House that the Government condemned in the strongest possible terms the abuse of authority by those who perpetrated these acts in the diocese of Ferns and those who failed to prevent and deal with those who perpetrated these acts. This was a gross dereliction of duty with regard to the protection of children. The Government was very clear that this conduct had to be condemned and there was no question of equivocating on that issue.

This debate was very interesting and I thank Senators for their good wishes to me on the work upon which I have embarked and for the many practical suggestions they made. I will try to take as many suggestions into account as I can on the practical issues raised. The question of listening to children was raised by Senators Brian Hayes and Glynn. This is an area where we have made some progress in the past decade. The goal in the national children's strategy, that we must listen to the voice of the child, has been substantiated in many different ways. The National Children's Office is working hard on this goal with different State agencies and we have established the Office of the Ombudsman for Children. The Children First guidelines seek to create the culture of mandatory reporting we all wish to see and a culture where children will confide a difficulty and will not feel inhibited about disclosing to others any difficulty in which they may be. It is important to broaden and deepen this and to devise structures to do so.

The question of cross-Border co-operation was raised by a number of speakers. This is an important issue because of the freedom of movement that obtains within the European Union, not just within this island. We must have a wider international approach to this issue and within these islands.

The terms of reference of the commission examining the Dublin archdiocese and the other dioceses in the State refer to the phrase "in the State". I have been asked what the position is with regard to dioceses in Northern Ireland. In accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, we cannot exercise jurisdiction there. Therefore, the terms of reference apply within the State. The arrangements which will be put in place by the HSE to monitor the adequacy and protection procedures in each diocese are being examined in conjunction with the Department. Issues concerning dioceses that straddle the Border will be considered in that context. An initial meeting between officials at the Department of Health and Children and officials from the Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland took place on 8 November. Child protection was also discussed at the meeting between the Tánaiste and the UK Minister, Mr. Woodward, in Belfast on Tuesday last. Consideration of that issue is well under way.

Issues relating to the educational system were raised by many Senators. It is important to bear in mind that a legislative framework is now in place, which was not the case for a substantial duration of the period of time to which the Ferns Report relates. Many of the various matters described in the Ferns Report took place before we had a clear statutory framework in respect of primary education. The Education Act 1998 carefully delineates the respective positions of patrons, parents, students and the State.

Of course there is scope for debate about what the respective provinces of the various interests should be. Much of the debate in this House and the other House revolved around this issue. The Ferns Report did not make any recommendations on this specific issue, other than to say that great care must be taken in the selection of a chair of a board of management. The rules for boards of management of national schools, which are drawn up under legislation, are to be revised. The four-year terms of office of the current boards will expire on 30 November 2007. The departmental procedure relating to the drawing up of boards of management, their constitutions and their rules of procedures was drawn up following discussions between the Department and representatives of the relevant interests — parents, teachers and the relevant management bodies. I felt that the characterisation of the current primary education system during this debate belonged, to some extent, to a past that no longer exists. I do not claim that what exists now is not capable of improvement. There is statutory scope to do so within the framework prescribed in legislation. There are also some wider constitutional considerations in this regard.

I welcome the fact that we are debating this issue. As I said at the outset, I am glad the recommendations in the Ferns Report have received a broad welcome. I assure Senators that I do not intend merely to write letters to people to seek reassurance that the report's recommendations are being implemented. It is important to ensure that the recommendations are implemented on the ground and that the necessary structures which need to exist if we are to ensure that the civil authority has full access to relevant information are available. When people are arguing about the position of the church as school patron that was investigated in the Ferns Inquiry, they should bear in mind that other churches, denominations and bodies are involved in the management and patronage of schools. The State, in recognising that the church in question can be involved in such matters, is also entitled to insist on certain standards when church personnel are getting involved in such bodies. That is an unavoidable conclusion when one considers that we have made statutory provisions in that regard.

It is natural and understandable that Senators spoke at length about relations between the church and the State. I would like to give the House my views on the church — I was fascinated by the contributions of Senators on that subject — but I am not sure if it is my place to do so as part of this debate. The Government is establishing an interfaith dialogue with all of the religions and faith groups in this State. That is an important and welcome step because we need to have a dialogue between civil society and the various churches, especially in light of the decline of the more conventional denominations which have always existed in this jurisdiction and the arrival of a substantial number of new faiths and religions which were not represented in significant numbers among the population of this State in the past. I do not doubt that every state needs the co-operation of the various faith groups within its borders. Faith groups assume a large importance for people from migrant communities, as organisers of a basic sense of community for such people in this State. Such groups played a huge part in the formation of the consciousness of the people who have lived here for generations. The Government's decision to engage in dialogue with such groups was a good one. Many of the issues which have been raised in this debate can be further teased out in the course of that dialogue.

There was a sense during this debate that many Senators spoke not only as Members of the Oireachtas but also as lay members of the church or other Christian churches which have close ecumenical relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Such people spoke about their concern about the state of the church. Those who have internal authority in the church, which is respected under the constitution, would do well to heed the opinions of those who have voiced their thoughts as part of this debate. I do not doubt that the church was a very important institution in Irish life — it still is for many people. The voices of those who have expressed their views on various issues should be heeded.

The position of the State has to be very clear. The Members of the Oireachtas operate as legislators on behalf of the people. If we enter into arrangements in education and other areas, we must be satisfied that the child protection standards which apply in such institutions are unassailable. The Government is responsible for ensuring that all of the recommendations of the excellent Ferns Report are implemented. I am certainly determined to ensure they are, so that people can be assured that the terrible things we have read about in the Ferns Report and which we have to infer from the report will not happen again. I thank Senators for their contributions to this valuable debate. Many Senators mentioned the need to ensure that the Stay Safe programme is extended to every primary school. I will draw that issue to the attention of the Minister for Education and Science.